When traditions and regional practices are gatekept, they die a slow death-owing to their fading mention, usage, and presence in diurnal routines. A plausible method to keep a craft alive is permitting a leeway for its growth, its evolution, across regions and times. This may mean that traditional crafts sometimes evolve in a manner that stands in dissonance with their primal and original format. However, this unabashed appending helps provide a mode of designing and creating that allows free expression of ideas, and a conspicuous and enduring presence of the said craft. Works by ceramic artist Jolie Ngo sit under this typology-of atypical experiments with a traditional craft. The Vietnamese-American artist, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, experiments with clay to build cyborgian objects.
Delineating the ideas that guide her practice, Ngo shares, “Something I am investigating in my practice is the synergy between handmade arts and technology. Working with a craft-based material like clay, there is always this emphasis on the relationship between your hands and the material. It's all about tactility, making the presence of your hand evident. Your hands are directly imparting an ‘aura’ onto your work that embodies the emotive content of your touch.” Since Ngo’s sculptures are 3D printed, its permits the question of the artist’s work embodying a humane charm. Addressing these deliberations, she questions, “What happens when you remove your hand from working directly with the material, and replace it with a 3D printer? Are those objects doomed to be cold and ‘hyper perfect’ because they are lacking the warmth from the maker's hands? Or is it possible to create a sense of tactility? Can you 3D print a ceramic object that embodies sensitivity and intimacy? Can a digitally fabricated object feel sensual or vulnerable? These are some of the questions that motivate my practice and my body of work has developed by challenging these ideas around handmade and digital craft.”
Ngo’s vibrant ceramic art serves as an acknowledgement to archaic ceramic traditions, while also fulfilling the need for the move towards forward-thinking practices. The US-based artist shares, “I want to show the ceramic vessel as a future-form that can still hold memories of the past.” She attempts, in her craft, to imbue the sense of intimacy and sensitivity apparent in handcrafted works. Although sculpted out using extant techniques such as 3D clay printing and rapid prototyping, Ngo’s sculptures, shaped in organic forms and hand-painted by her, offer a novel juxtaposition of the traditional and the technological.
Ngo’s works are inspired by the digital spaces from her childhood, particularly a nostalgia for the interfaces of Minecraft and The Sims. Her objects, hence, despite being crafted from clay, evoke memories of early examples of digitisation. “I am deeply engaged in exploring the tension between past and future, probing the synergy between handmade arts and technology. Maintaining a sense of tactility, intimacy and sensitivity often achieved in traditional handworks is paramount to my practice. I lovingly dress these familiar forms with hand painted geometric patterns or hazy gradients and affix embellishments all over their surface to bring my hand back into the equation,” she shares. Ngo’s sculptures are difficult are define, and hence, evoke images of otherworldly and fantastical lands and terrains.
The cyborgian sculptures crafted by Ngo employ the mnemonic device of memory palaces, which is an archaic method of visualisation of a spatial environment used to elicit the recollection of a past memory or incident. In her practice, Ngo uses this device to recall her childhood days, the early digital spaces inhabited by her and her friends. The pixelations, hazy gradients, and colour palettes used by the artist reference the locales in which video games such as Pokemon and Animal Crossing are set up. Some other references that are apparent in her work include hills and plains, extant and futuristic architectural elements and features such as arches and staircases, as well as the playful landscape design by Isamu Noguchi.
Describing her own work, Ngo says, “The 3D printed coloured porcelain coils that comprise my works wrap around, building on top of each other to create the vessel in its entirety, but form is not the only thing that is brought into reality. The way the colored porcelain is laid down, row by row, creates an atmosphere. These hazy gradients, bespeckled with glassy colored glaze grog, echo the light that the sun creates when it is rising or setting. The light being cast onto the memory palace landscapes. The atmosphere created gives the viewer a sense that these terrains are far away, and we are only viewing them from a distance. Glaze gloops that are meticulously placed at the summit of the landscapes drip down to the plane below them.”
Ngo’s sculptures are hence, not just collectable objects, but also portals that carry the viewer to varied landscapes and spaces from the past—both imagined and lived through.